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Trapped in Jordan, Syrian Refugees See No Way Home


    Seven years ago Zahir Hamshari fled to Jordan to escape the civil war in Syria. But, his life now is full of questions and fears. Can he pay the cost of rent or electricity? What about food?

    One thing he knows: he cannot return to his home.

    “There is no future for us in Syria,” Hamshari said.

    In this Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019 photo, Syrian refugee Zahir Hamshari sits with his children in his rented apartment in east Amman, Jordan. Seven years after fleeing the civil war in his homeland, Hamshari’s life is filled with questions and doubts. (AP)
    In this Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019 photo, Syrian refugee Zahir Hamshari sits with his children in his rented apartment in east Amman, Jordan. Seven years after fleeing the civil war in his homeland, Hamshari’s life is filled with questions and doubts. (AP)

    Jordan opened its border with Syria so that Syrian refugees could return home. More than one million Syrians are living in the Kingdom. There are few jobs that pay well. The refugees are trapped by poverty and hopelessness, living in a country that was already struggling to feed its own people.

    The Syrian crisis has hurt the progress made by Jordan over recent years, Jordan’s Planning Ministry said in a statement. “Education, health and water infrastructure have been…strained in several communities,” he added.

    Many Jordanian schools now have separate morning and afternoon classes to make room for the refugee children. Water use is up over 20 percent in a country with severe water shortages.

    The ministry said that while some countries have been supportive with aid, “donor fatigue” is a problem. Foreign donors have paid just 6.1 percent of the $2.4 billion needed for refugee services this year, the government said.

    Jordan shares a border with southern Syria. At the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, refugees flooded two refugee camps organized by the Jordanians. Now, most refugees have moved to the cities where they are permitted to work in some jobs.

    Jordan has accepted an estimated 1.3 million Syrians, including some 670,000 people officially named by the U.N. as refugees. That is a large problem for a country of roughly 10 million. Turkey took in 3.6 million refugees, and Lebanon took nearly 1 million.

    When Jordan opened its main border with Syria last October after four years, there were hopes that refugees would begin to return home. Since then, only 28,000 refugees have gone back, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

    The agency found late last year that 78 percent of refugees hope to return to Syria one day. But only eight percent will do so in the next year.

    “We do see that (most) plan to go back to Syria one day in the future, but only a small portion of them are wanting to go back in the next 12 months,” said Lilly Carlisle. She is the U. N. spokeswoman in Jordan.

    Refugees say they fear for their safety or being forced to join the army. There are also few jobs or housing. Families and friends still in Syria tell the refugees the situation is still dangerous and they should not return.

    The UNHCR is working with the Jordanian government and aid organizations. It provides services for refugees, including education and health services. It can also provide money. But donor nations gave just 25 percent of the needed amount this year, and the U.N. is struggling to meet demands.

    Hamshari fled with his family from their home in Damascus in 2012.

    The 36-year-old said he left Syria after he was arrested following anti-government protests. He said he was tortured during three months in jail. He believes he will be in danger if he returns. He added that his home near Damascus is destroyed.

    Today, he works in a pharmaceutical factory and lives in a small apartment in a working-class neighborhood in east Amman. He says he receives about $200 in food coupons from the U.N. each month, but gets no other assistance.

    Like many other refugees, he cannot pay his rent and electricity bills.

    He lives by borrowing money from friends and relatives, but says few people have money to lend because they are in the same situation.

    “I feel lost,” he said. “I haven’t achieved anything in the last six or seven years, only eating and drinking and being indebted. If I stay like this, I will die from anger.”

    I’m Susan Shand.

    The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.

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    Words in this Story

    infrastructure – n. the basic equipment and structures (such as roads and bridges) that are needed for a country, region, or organization to function properly

    strain- v. a feeling of stress and worry that you have because you are trying to do too much, are dealing with a difficult problem

    fatigue – n. the state of being very tired : extreme weariness

    pharmaceutical – n. of or relating to the production and sale of drugs and medicine

    coupon – n. a usually small piece of printed paper that lets you get a service or product for free or at a lower price